Being a youth pastor I have become accustomed to blank stares or a change of subjects when people ask me what I do. I say, “I hang out with teenagers after my 8-5 job.” Well, I used to say that. Now, I say, “I work with students on the side”. It gets a better response…seemingly more noble. But, I may go back to saying I hang out with teenagers. My reasoning: the more I hang out with them the more I realize the need to be free. The more I hang out with them the more I realize, as a generation, they need adults willing to dare them to live dangerous lives for the Gospel of Christ.
Some of us are not wired to put up with teenagers for very long let alone a group of them over the course of week in, week out or throughout a whole weekend. Or so they think. Most people just have an idea that they have to be the coolest person on the planet in order to be accepted by a teenager. Parents fall into this category. Although, I have met some parents who are with the times I have also met some parents who aren’t and their teenager(s) still think they are the coolest people life has to offer.
This post is about those past observations and what I have learned most recently. The more I hang with teenagers the more I realize they really want someone who is into them. Someone who loves them despite the times they fall flat on their faces. They desire acceptance in the arena of life and if they don’t find it in people who will guide them correctly they will seek elsewhere. And, this isn’t just a teenage problem. Every generation has their rebels. Every generation has it’s great, stand out leaders that will one day lead our country when the parent generation is old and gray. All of them NEED someone to encourage them where they are great and be there to lift them up when they fail.
There is certainly plenty to pick apart with what I just mentioned. But, what sparked this thought was a happening at a retreat I took my students on this past weekend.
As we loaded up my goal for the weekend was to get to know them better. I showed some videos of which some liked and some didn’t. That’s ok…I didn’t want to stand up and speak to them. I wanted to observe them. I wanted to connect with them and learn about them as a group and as individuals. Build relationships if you will. I succeeded in my goal and was welcomed by a pleasant surprise as we entered dinner on Friday evening.
I prayed over our meal and we officially began our weekend retreat. As students went through the line I thought nothing of where they sat. I am fairly laid back in my approach to them and if they want to eat outside in the grass then so be it. But, they didn’t do that (for any parents concerned with what diseases they could while they sat in dirt and ate or actually ate the dirt, rest assured, they sat at well cleaned table, in chairs, inside and I watched them like a hawk to make sure they weren’t starting a food fight). Anyways, at that table they packed in like a thousand 12 year old girls to get front stage at a Bieber concert.
I thought nothing of it to be honest. That is until the Logan Valley staff brought to my attention that this was a rare occasion. That retreat center sees multiple groups on a weekly basis, year ‘round. So, it made me wonder if something was wrong. Do they like each other too much? Are they weird and smell abnormally good for a group of teenagers including teenage boys? Were they dealing drugs behind our backs and packing in tight so everyone could be in on the deal? Were they planning to overthrow me, tie me up and run amuck the entire weekend? Nah, it wasn’t any of that.
What was happening was a continuation of something I inherited as their youth pastor. Cohesiveness. I have only been here for a few short months. You can’t develop that atmosphere in that time. As I thought about it a feeling of blessing rushed over me. This was a healing moment for my heart, a monumental moment in my understanding of where they are, and a decisive moment on what comes next.
I have been speaking to them about loving more. Giving them a license to press on and live recklessly for the Gospel. Not recklessly as without control but recklessly giving up self and pursuing Christ with a passion and fervor so their lives will gain the most fulfillment, purpose and meaning…which is only found in a relationship with Christ. They are capable…if someone tells them they are, if someone believes in them.
I say all that to say this: I need to love like they do more. I saw something in my own life that is amiss. Throw away the schedules, the programs, the formulated and institutionalized part of youth ministry and just live life with them. When I speak to them I go long sometimes…I get passionate about them and their lives and I start going on and on and on.
This past weekend I sat at the back of the chapel and prayed and wondered where each of them would be in ten years. I have a job to love them in touching a day I’ll never see…to give them Christ and not Jay…to show them passion for a life followed after Christ so that I might influence them to lead a life of the same. It’s about the relationships…the standard Wednesday night isn’t about getting a message together just to get one together and perform a duty assigned at my hiring as the church’s youth pastor. It’s about knowing them. It’s showing them how much I care so they care how much I know. It’s about living life with them and encouraging them to keep sitting close as they walk through life.
Life on life…living with love. I watched a group of students teach me to let go. A few years ago I thought I was done with ministry all together. This weekend fully reinstalled that passion I once had. My duty is to know Christ and make Him known…my calling is to invest in the lives of students and give them the truth of the Gospel that will empower them to reach the world with the Gospel.
Something so simple…and I bet none of them knew they touched me in that way. If you’re a parent reading this…be encouraged. Your students are amazing. Some of them have legit struggles in their hearts, some of them have laughs and smiles that are contagious, some of them have personalities that shouldn’t be held back, some of them will go on to live lives that touch many, many souls for the Gospel. All of them have a special place in my heart.
Let us all push our chairs together, overlap life and love greater than we did yesterday. How precious this life is…make it count. I plan to and I’m going to do it by hanging out with teenagers because they are cooler than me and they have many more lessons to teach me. Hopefully my life impacts them as much as they impact me.